The game of the century

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Scott Ludwig lives, runs and writes in Senoia. His latest book, SOUTHERN COMFORT is his second collection of 101 columns. His first, SOUTHERN CHARM, and all of his other books can be found on his author page on Amazon. He can be contacted at magicludwig1@gmail.com

If Alabama and Georgia meet at the national championship on Jan. 10 in Indianapolis, expect some TV talkers to call it “the game of the century.”

After what happened in the SEC Championship on December 4th between these same two teams, that doesn’t seem like a very realistic expectation.

Either way, this could very well turn out to be the game of the century – of the 21st century, at least.

As for the game of the 20th century, it is clear.

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December 6, 1969. Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Texas – 15, Arkansas – 14.

A game that lives up to its reputation as the game of the century.

My family was living in Hawaii at the time, and college football games were still on replay – meaning we only saw the game the week after it was played. Texas at Arkansas: From the opening kickoff until the clock ran out, I don’t think I moved a muscle. The game was exciting from start to finish.

At least for this 14-year-old who watches The Game of the Century.

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In 1969, ABC television owned the rights to college football’s “game of the week”. ABC manager Beano Cook arranged for Texas and Arkansas – two teams that won national championships in the 1960s – to move their game, normally played in October, to the final weekend. season in honor of the 100th anniversary of college football. .

It couldn’t have worked better for ABC – or a national audience. Both teams entered the game undefeated, with Texas ranked as the best team in the country (and on an 18-game winning streak) and Arkansas (on a 15-game winning streak, their last loss being to Texas. the previous year) ranked second. The game caught the attention of the American sports public: more than half of the televisions in use in the country were tuned to the game.

The match, played in constant cold rain as freezing fog hung over the stadium, began with a pre-match prayer from Evangelist Billy Graham. President Richard Nixon was in the stands, ready to present a plaque signifying the winner of the match as national champion. (It’s worth mentioning that undefeated, third-ranked Penn State and Joe Paterno, their head coach, weren’t too happy with it.)

As for the game itself, it was – for a wide-eyed boy whose love for college football was born that day – a masterpiece. Arkansas scored touchdowns after Texas missed its first possession in the first and second half to take what appeared to be – with the way the Razorback defense played – an insurmountable 14-0 lead. Somehow, Texas managed to hit back and scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter: a successful two-point conversion after the first and an incredible fourth-down conversion (4th and 3rd of their own). 43-yard line, an unexpected passing play that went for 44 yards) on the way to the second. Texas, despite having returned the ball six times, came out on top – and received the president’s plaque in the winning locker room after the game.

Texas then defeated Notre Dame 21-17 in the Cotton Bowl. It should be noted that Penn State was the Cotton Bowl’s first choice to play in Texas, but they declined and chose to play Missouri in the Orange Bowl instead. (Several years later, Paterno said, “I wondered how President Nixon could know so little about Watergate in 1973 and so little about college football in 1969.”)

One of the game’s most memorable performances was Texas safety Freddie Steinmark, who performed with severe pain in his left leg. Two days after the game, x-rays showed a bone tumor so large it was a miracle Steinmark could walk, let alone play football. A few days later, his left leg was amputated – but that didn’t stop him from being on the Texas touchdown at the Cotton Bowl: standing on his own, on crutches.

The game’s two coaches, Darrell Royal of Texas and Frank Broyles of Arkansas, both retired after the 1976 season. Royal died in 2012, Broyles in 2017. Today, the England football team He University of Texas plays its home games at Darrell K. Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium, and the University of Arkansas plays theirs at Frank Broyles Field.

***

The game is also known as “Dixie’s Last Stand” because it was the last major sporting event in America played between two all-white teams. In the week leading up to the game, black college student groups in Arkansas protested that the song “Dixie” was no longer being used to celebrate Razorback touchdowns. In fact, the students were willing to rush onto the pitch during the game if the group played there (luckily they didn’t).

But that was not the only protest. The United States was engaged in the Vietnam War at the time, and protesters carrying placards (some of them were actually war veterans) were stationed outside the stadium in full view of the president. Nixon. The fact that the US military recently launched an investigation into Lt. William Calley for the alleged massacre of civilians in the Vietnamese village of My Lai earlier that year did not help matters. Fortunately – for Nixon, for ABC, for the country – no incidents of violence were reported during the game.

Incidentally, the game was played out less than a week after the Los Angeles Police Department issued warrants for the arrest of the Charles Manson family for murder.

***

As I mentioned earlier, I was only 14 years old and not living in the continental United States at the time. I knew very little about the Vietnam War, segregation, or politics. I wasn’t even sure who Charles Manson was. And I knew college football even less.

But after watching The Game of the Century, I was sure of one thing: I was going to be a college football fan for the rest of my life.

Scott Ludwig lives, runs and writes in Senoia. His latest book, SOUTHERN COMFORT is his second collection of 101 columns. His first, SOUTHERN CHARM, and all of his other books can be found on his author page on Amazon. He can be contacted at magicludwig1@gmail.com


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